‘Ambedkar tourist circuit only aids nationalistic narrative’

The five spots on the tour are not true to Dr. Ambedkar’s ‘true legacy’, say scholars and Ambedkarites; they suggest Raigarh where he led Mahad Satyagraha and Pune where he held negotiations with Gandhi, among others, as places of significance

September 24, 2022 01:50 am | Updated 01:50 am IST - New Delhi

Ambedkar’s memorial in his birthplace Mhow in Madhya Pradesh is frequented by Buddhists, Dalits and Ambedkarites. File

Ambedkar’s memorial in his birthplace Mhow in Madhya Pradesh is frequented by Buddhists, Dalits and Ambedkarites. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Central government has announced a special tourist circuit encompassing five key sites associated with Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, including his birthplace Mhow, Delhi where he died, and London where he studied. Dalit scholars and Ambedkarites, however, argue that the five spots or the “Panchateerths” do not do justice to Ambedkar’s “real legacy” and have been chosen to just fit into a “localised and nationalistic” narrative of the government.

According to Ambedkar scholars, there are a host of other sites like Raigarh district of Maharashtra where Dr. Ambedkar led the Mahad Satyagraha, Pune where he held the first negotiations with Mahatma Gandhi in Yerwada jail on a separate electorate for depressed classes, and Sri Lanka where he attended a Buddhist conclave that is said to have influenced him to convert to Buddhism.

“This is a local and nationalistic perspective. They want people to see their version,” said Ashok Bharti, Founder and Chairperson of NACDOR (National Confederation of Dalit and Adivasi Organisations).

“People who have not read Dr. Ambedkar and his work have made this concept (of the tourist circuit) in a hurry. They should have consulted organisations and people who are thorough with his work and life,” he added.

The five cities in the tourist circuit as announced by the government are Mhow (his birthplace), London (where he resided and studied), Nagpur (also studied here), Delhi (where he passed away) and finally Mumbai (where he was cremated).

These sites are already visited by Dalits as pilgrimage spots; the idea is to attract members of the public from outside the Dalit community, a senior official of the Ministry of Tourism said.

According to Chandrabhan Prasad, Dalit ideologue and affiliated scholar with the George Mason University United States, “This is mere symbolism. It is a bid to subvert and distort Dalit historical landmarks”.

“I would prefer that the tourist circuit begins from the Mahar talab andolan. One of the greatest incidents of expression of freedom for Dalits,” he added.

Mahad Satyagraha was a satyagraha led by Dr. Ambedkar on March 20, 1927 to allow untouchables to use water in a public tank in Mahad, currently in Raigarh district of Maharashtra.

Pune is another landmark place for Dalit and Ambedkar history, where negotiations were held in the Yerwada jail between Dr. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi on a separate electorate for depressed classes in the legislature of British India in 1932. The result was the Poona Pact signed by Dr. Ambedkar on behalf of the depressed classes and by Madan Mohan Malviya on behalf of upper caste Hindus.

Similar is the case of Kolhapur where in March 1920, another legendary social reformer, Chatrapati Shahuji Maharaj, declared Dr. Ambedkar as the true leader of the oppressed classes in India. March 2020 marked the centenary year of this event.

Going further, Rajesh Lilothia, Head of Congress SC department, said that if the government wants to do true justice to Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy, they should dedicate the Central Vista to Dr. Ambedkar and begin the tourist circuit from there. As the father of the Indian constitution, this is where his true legacy rests.”

However, noted Dalit scholar, Badri Narayan feels that the Ambedkar tourist circuit was a good first step and “maybe other places of significance in Ambedkar history would be added subsequently”.

Since assuming office in 2014, the Modi government has celebrated Ambedkar — unveiling his portrait in Parliament’s Central Hall and developing Deeksha Bhoomi as an international tourist centre.

Last week, former President Ram Nath Kovind released a book Ambedkar & Modi: Reformer’s Ideas, Performer’s Implementation.

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